Why Did Both the Celts and the Norse Use Knots?
Both the Celtic and Nordic cultures used knotwork: in their pottery, in their paintings, and even in their tattoos. But as these two cultures were often at odds historically, how did they come to share this beautiful form of art? And most importantly, which should you choose to emblazon your AleHorn? To begin, let’s compare Norse to Celtic knots.
Celtic knotwork, also called Icovellavna, tends to fall under a very strict, mathematical format. Celtic knots are well-defined, and typically one continuous, solid line that curls in and around on itself. Take a look at this Celtic shield knot:
Now, take your finger and start anywhere on the knot and follow it. You will make a complete course around the knot without any stops. The line may sometimes vary in shape, width, and size, but it is always continuous.
You can also look for motifs. Typical Celtic motifs also include spirals, lace, key, and step patterns. The line is heavier and the design is more abstract, whereas Norse is more likely to depict people, animals, and things. Like this modern-day Mjolnir:
The knotwork in both countries are very similar, and thanks to their revival in tattoo shops and jewelry stores around the world, a lot of modern-day artwork utilize the influences of both cultures.
In terms of history, the Celts can claim they had the idea first. The oldest knotwork in that region of the world comes to us thanks to the ancient druids. Judging by the spirals in places like Newgrange outside of Dublin, they may even have their roots in Neolithic times. The artwork’s revival after the birth of Christ can be traced to the early 600s, when Celtic monks translated classic works from the east into the beautiful illuminated manuscripts that we love today, such as the infamous Book of Kells.
The Norse had long harried the shores of what is now the Scottish Orkney Islands, but during this time period and through 1200 AD, they made their way down the British coast to Cornwall, and even to Ireland. The two cultures influenced each other– you even start to see Celtic knotwork picking up people and animals, and losing their shape.
What Should I Pick?
Whether you’re getting a tattoo or getting an engraving done on your new AleHorn (fuck yeah!), you should pick the design that most resonates with you. Don’t feel like you have to pick one of the other style just because you did a 23andme report and found out you’re only 13% Scandanavian and 34% Irish. Look for the meaning instead of the history. Many knots, especially in the Celtic culture, have strong meanings behind them. We went over this in another article– have a look here. For example, that shield knot above is supposed to protect, as its name implies, and ward away foes. But it’s also found a staple in Celtic wedding and engagement rings.
Or take it a step further and design your own knotwork! It’s pretty easy to get into so long as you let your imagination roam. Design a knotwork animal that you feel best represents you, or a sign for your roleplaying group’s guild, or a family crest made of knotwork. Whatever you make and no matter what your influences are, we can carve it on your AleHorn.